THE DAVAO CITY WATERSHED CODE IN ACTION
By ROGER M. BALANZA
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has dismissed a report that banana plantations are posing threats to watershed areas, saying that the Davao City Watershed Protection, Conservation and Management Ordinance is in place to watch out for environmental violators.
The landmark ordinance, authored by then city councilor Arnolfo Cabling and approved in 2007 by the Davao City Council, set regulations in the city’s watershed areas comprising about 32,000 hectares located in the Third District.
The ordinance popularly called the Watershed Code was authored by Cabling while chair of the City Council committee on environment and natural resources.
In the Gikan sa Masa Para sa Masa television program on ABS/CBN on Sunday, August 3, Duterte nevertheless said he would order the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) to conduct an investigation on the report that a company has allegedly carved out 200 hectares of buffer zones of Tamugan River in Marilog District for a banana plantation. He said he would revoke the permit of the company if the Watershed Code is violated.
The Watershed Code mandates a 30-meter buffer zone in banks of rivers in the watershed areas.
The watershed areas were under assault from developmental aggression particularly by expanding banana plantations before the approval of the Watershed Code.
The CENRO and the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO), and three special bodies created by the Watershed Code are tasked by the ordinance to police developmental aggression and human activities in the watersheds’ three land classifications set by the ordinance.
The Watershed Code classified the watershed areas into Conservation, Agro-forestry and Non-tillage areas, and Prime Agricultural lands. Economic and infrastructure developments are banned in the Conservation and Agro-forestry and Non-tillage areas, including mono-crop plantations like bananas and pineapple farms.
The ordinance proposed Crop Zoning in the Prime Agricultural areas for mono-crop plantations and other agricultural ventures.
Davao City’s watershed areas were identified in a terrain analysis and study jointly conducted by the CPDO and the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (EMB-DENR) in 2005. The study was adopted by the Watershed Code and has been embedded in the City Zoning Plan.
The ordinance had set a phase-out plan on existing banana plantations, the most aggressive agri-business sector, in the banned areas and were ordered to pull out banana farms in the Conservation, Agro-Forestry and Non-Tillage areas after the approval of the ordinance.
The mechanisms for implementation of the Watershed Code are to be carried out by three special bodies created by the ordinance: the Watershed Management Council (WMC) – not to be confused with the Water Management Council (WMC) of the environmental NGO Interface Development Interventions (Idis), the policy-making body which is headed by the mayor; the Watershed Multipartite Monitoring Council (WMMC) which would monitor violations and intrusions into conservation areas; and the Barangay Watershed Monitoring Council (BWMC) which is tasked with monitoring agricultural activities and delineating areas into the three land classifications under the Watershed Code.
Since its approval, incursion into prohibited areas by new and expanding banana farms have been effectively stopped on the ground by the BWMC which has delineated areas where mono-crop plantations are not allowed.
Banana farms and other agri-business in the Third District are required to secure clearance from the BWMC before their permits are recommended for approval by the CENRO, CPDO and the business bureau.
The city’s watershed areas feed the Davao aquifer, also known as Dumoy aquifer south of the downtown proper, where the Davao City Water District (DCWD) pumps out potable water for the city’s population of about 1.5 million.
DCWD says the water resource in the aquifer would be depleted in 50 years and is develoling its Surface Water Development Project tapping Tamugan River in Marilog in order to save the Dumoys aquifer from depletion.
Aside from the Watershed Code that protects watershed areas and water resources, the City Council 20 years ago also approved the Davao City Water Code which has remained unimplemented over legal questions raised against the measure and for lack of an Implementing Rules and Regulations.
The Watershed Code initially had a provision on banning aerial spraying of anti-pest chemicals in agricultural plantations but this was deleted prior to its approval after the Davao City Council passed a separate ordinance banning aerial spraying.
Like the Water Code, the anti-aerial spraying ordinance has remained unimplemented with a case pending before the Supreme Court questioning its legality filed by the Philippine Banana Growers Association (PBGEA).
But the strict provisions of the Watershed Code and a potential lose by PBGEA on the anti-aerial spraying case in the Supreme Court, has stymied banana plantations from expanding.
Many big banana companies also relocated their farms to the neighboring provinces of Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley or Davao del Sur, including the Caraga Region and the Cotabato provinces.